As Ted Williams and his business partners were raising capital in 1999 to start a bank in Dickson, they were brainstorming names for it. They were also dreaming up ways to make a splash when they opened the first branch.
Williams said building a successful bank relies on strengths in money management, customer service and community involvement. But a little marketing genius doesn’t hurt either, and the founders came up with a couple of masterstrokes right out of the gate.
The name was hiding in plain sight. Inspired by the Tennessee flag, Williams hit upon “TriStar” and discovered no one in Tennessee was already using the name, whether for financial services or anything else. The only company anywhere that he found using it was TriStar Pictures, the movie studio with the Pegasus logo.
About a month after TriStar Bank announced its name, Williams said, Nashville-based Healthcare Corporation of America declared it would rebrand its hospital network TriStar. Other Tennessee companies began to use the name, too, he said.
As 1999 was winding down, many feared the Y2K computer-code problem would disrupt the financial system when all four numbers changed on the calendar. But on New Year’s Eve that year, Williams and his colleagues had something else on their mind.
Gathered in front of a building at 650 Highway 46 South in Dickson, they opened the doors to their first branch one second after midnight and laid claim to the first bank born in the new millennium.
Jan. 1, 2000, is the date of TriStar Bank’s charter as listed on its certificate from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Williams said FDIC records show no other banks share this official founding date.
In 2001 the first branch moved to 719 E. College St., which is also the bank’s headquarters today. That’s where Williams works as chief executive officer of a company that turned $7.5 million from a private stock offering 20 years ago into an institution boasting more than $300 million in assets and five full-service branches.
“We pride ourselves on being a community bank, and giving back to the community,” Williams said.
Williams said the subprime mortgage crisis and resulting recession a little over a decade ago dealt the bank a setback. But TriStar paid shareholders a dividend in 2008 and remained profitable as the economic downturn dragged on.
Williams said TriStar looks at many factors in determining whether to lend money to a homebuyer, and customers don’t have to be stellar in every aspect of their finances to get a loan. However, TriStar has never targeted the subprime market, and prudent lending has been a key to success, he said.
The bank’s journey began with the name.
“I looked at the Tennessee flag … I thought about Texas, with the single star on its flag, how it’s known as the Lone Star State,” Williams recalled. From there, it wasn’t a big jump to the bank’s name and three-star logo.
And deciding to be the first bank of the new millennium? That move is still paying off.
In an advertisement for its 2019 New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Dickson last week, the bank announced the show would take place “20:00 - 20:20” — a time increment, using the 24-hour clock, that mirrors the years of the bank’s existence.
Williams said there was a practical reason to set off the rockets at 8 p.m. instead of midnight. He said it was a family-friendly time to provide the entertainment for the community.
And if it so happens that 8 p.m. is 20:00, and 20 minutes is a good length for a fireworks show, well, that’s nice too.